Excerpt from The Quality of Blue by Valarie Watersun

   A loud knock sounded on her apartment door and woke her some hours later. Looking at the clock, she saw it was two in the
morning. Panic coursed through her.
   Leaping up she realized she was still naked, having fallen into bed directly after her shower, so she shrugged into her robe even
as she scrubbed sleep from her eyes.
   “Who is it?” she cried at the door as the insistent knock repeated.
   “Larken. Let me in now!”
   Larken? What was she doing back in town so early? Hastily she pushed the questions aside and unlocked the door. Larken
sounded angry. And she was angry, River could tell by Larken’s finger-tousled hair and snapping green eyes.
   “Please, come in,” River told her, stepping back and gesturing her in as any hostess would do, even though it was an
unreasonable hour.
   Larken stepped into the dimness of River’s apartment and began pacing back and forth in the small living room. She was wearing
shorts and tank top under an opened button-down shirt that slapped like wings with each pass she made. Her hair was wet and the
shorts bore damp patches.
   “I came home early because... well, because… and I go to my house to clean up. Then I carry my satchel to the store to unload it.
What do I find?”
   She swung hooded, predatory eyes around and impaled River with them.
   River stood numb, mind racing as she tried to figure out what calamity she had caused.
   “I have no idea, Larken, you’ll have to tell me,” she said finally, crossing her arms in resignation.
   “Someone,” she turned and paced in the other direction, “and I think I know just the someone, has used almost all my precious
opals. Do you know how hard these opals are to acquire? Do you know how I have to bust my hump just to get a few of these
beauties? Hot days in the outback, in a smelly hovel, bargaining with crooks. Do you know what that’s like?”
   River watched Larken with open-mouthed amazement. ”No, Larken,” she said with unnatural calm, swallowing the first surges of
outrage. “Why don’t you tell me what it’s like.”
   “It’s...” she began, pausing when River’s calmness penetrated her ire. “It’s bad, okay?”
   River walked toward the kitchen and fetched a bottle of water from the refrigerator.
   “Seems to me, Larken,” she said in a flat, steely voice, “You’re in the wrong line of business if you dislike the job so much.”
   Now it was Larken’s turn to stand with mouth agape. “Does that mean what I think it means? Are you threatening me?”
   River eyed her with confusion. “With what? Threatening you with what?”
   “Threatening my job,” she thundered. “You can’t fire me, you know. Only Deidre can do that.” Larken glared at her, a challenge
brightening her dark eyes.
   “Larken,” River was tired and not in the mood for any more doubletalk. “I don’t know what you are talking about. The thought of firing
you never even entered my head. Why don’t you just go home and get some sleep. We can talk about this tomorrow when we’re both
a bit calmer and more well-rested.”
   “Oh, don’t pull that Miss Sensible crap on me. I want to know who gave you the right to go into that vault and just use whatever the
hell you pleased? Suppose some of those beads were reserved for someone?”
   Alarm jangled along River’s nerves. She hadn’t thought of that possibility. She lifted her chin high in defiance.
   “I can’t help that, Larken, but in the future, we’ll have to make sure reserved beads are well marked so this won’t happen again.
Who were the beads being held for?”
   In her imagination she saw dollar signs take wing as she wondered how she would purchase replacements if Sunset didn’t sell
right away.
   Larken didn’t answer, but moved to stand gazing out the front window at the dim street outside. She seemed deeply troubled.
   “Larken?”
   She turned and gazed evenly at River. “No one. But suppose they had been, River, what would we have done then?”
   “Whatever we had to do. Why must you be such a pessimist? Didn’t you see what I made with the opals?”
   Her eyes lit with excitement as she studied Larken’s frowning face. A person shouldn’t be allowed to look this good at two in the
morning, a part of her whispered, especially when they’re angry. She noted the satiny dark hair feathering on Larken’s shoulders,
eyes following down and fastening on small, pointed breasts battling the thin undershirt. Blushing, she lifted her gaze, noticing how
well-shaped the dark slashing eyebrows were and how finely her nose cleaved the dimness of the room.
   “Stop looking at me!” Larken muttered suddenly, turning from the window. “Don’t look at me with those eyes.”
   River whirled and walked toward the kitchen. “Well,” she said, her back to the other woman. “did you or did you not see the
necklace?”
   “You mean this?” Larken drew the necklace from the front pocket of her shirt and held it aloft, light from the street gathering energy
and shooting away from the beads.
   River looked back and gave a small shriek of alarm. “Oh, Larken, please, I spent hours on that, please don’t break it.”
   Larken looked at River as if she’d gone mad. Then she reconsidered and devilment leapt in her face. “It would serve you right if I
did, you know.”
   She placed both hands within the circle of beads. “I could snap out and beads would go flying, wouldn’t they?”
   River swallowed and licked her lips nervously. Part of her wanted to challenge Larken’s bluff but the woman was still an unknown
entity to her. How could she be sure Larken wouldn’t destroy it? Tears of indecision welled in her crystal eyes. One escaped the pool
and cascaded frantically along her smooth, sun-kissed cheek. With an impatient gesture she brushed the moisture away and
watched Larken defiantly.
   Larken weakened as the tear sparkled in the light shining between the open drapes. “Oh, hey, I’m...I’m sorry, River. I wouldn’t break
it. Really. It’s too beautiful.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Almost as beautiful as you.”
   The words that until this moment River hadn’t realized she’d been longing to hear, sent a staggering thrill through her body.
Surprise at the sudden feeling mirrored itself on her face and, seeing it, Larken moved toward her. They were in each other’s arms
then, both wondering how it happened and Larken was dragging the doubled strand of opals and cinnabar along River’s long neck.
The feel of the smooth cool beads sent a chill along River’s spine, raising gooseflesh and tickling deliciously.


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Copyright 2006 by Valarie Watersun.
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